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The Long Game
A Smoking Gun in the Kremlin?

Does this count as a smoking gun? Dmitry Muratov, the editor of Novaya Gazeta, the scrappy investigative journal that is perhaps best known in the West for regularly publishing pieces by the late Anna Politkovskaya, says he has in his possession a strategy document drafted and accepted by the Kremlin which outlines in broad strokes just what Russia’s long game in Ukraine may be:

Muratov said the document characterized then Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych as “a person without morals and willpower whose downfall must be expected at any moment.” Yanukovych fled Ukraine for Russia on Feb. 22, 2014.

Muratov said the Russian document appears to have been drafted between Feb. 4 and Feb. 15 last year. He said the overall strategy included plans on how to break Ukraine into automonmous sectors, immediately attaching now war-torn southeastern Ukraine to Moscow’s tax union, with a longer term plan for annexation.

The plan suggested “the main thrust should be Crimea and the Kharkhiv region, with the aim of initiating the annexation of the eastern regions.”

The strategy document also calls for a public relations campaign to justify Russia’s intervention. The newspaper did not release further details of the strategy at this point.

However, Muratov said that the strategy paper contradicts the Kremlin’s claim that it annexed Crimea as a reaction to residents there feeling threatened by Ukrainian nationalists in Kiev. If authentic, the strategy document also would appear to have outlined the precise course of the pro-Russian separatist rebellion in the Donbas, which includes two regions, Donetsk and Luhansk.

Beyond that, Muratov said that while he could not definitively show who prepared the document, he could with some confidence speculate that the authors included Russian oligarch Konstantin Malofayev, who has been reported to have funded the pro-Russian uprisings in Crimea, including giving $1 million to the new mayor of Sevastopol.

Muratov said the document was passed from Malofayev to aids of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who then approved of the plan.

For those who can read Russian, a transcript of the interview with Muratov appears on the pages of the independent Ekho Moskvy radio station. The full report is to be released later this week by Novaya Gazeta—as early as Wednesday.

The decision-making process in the upper echelons of Putin’s deeply personalized state have always been rather opaque, and have only become more so as the Ukrainian crisis has evolved. The existence of a strategy document drafted by an oligarch on the outside does not mean that Putin himself feels bound by it, or that he is executing an intricate plan rather than improvising as he goes along. Indeed, elsewhere in the interview Muratov seems to suggest that Putin has lost full control of the situation on the ground in Ukraine.

Nevertheless, the mere existence of such a document, which a year after its drafting appears to have had several of its strategic goals realized by Russian policy, ought to serve as yet one more wake-up call for somnambulant Western leaders in both Washington and Brussels. The Western consensus at this point seems to be that Putin is content with keeping Ukraine hobbled and weak but, with the exception of Crimea, wants it territorially intact. The document, however, suggests that in some influential quarters of the Kremlin much bigger annexationist dreams are being bandied about. Not thinking through a policy contingency for this very outcome would be deeply irresponsible.

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  • FriendlyGoat

    One “policy contingency” we may actually be thinking through is America, by not sending our own military force, telling Europe that it will need to beef up its own resistance to Russian ambitions. If we send arms or even troops, will anybody else do anything? If we send arms or even troops and something goes badly, will anybody else shoulder any responsibility for the outcome? Is leading from behind, or from the middle, really a nutty thing to be doing?

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